Boys soccer / Scouting the Class 3A state tournament
at Hoffman Estates High School
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When: Semifinals Friday at 5 and 7 p.m.; third-place and championship at 5 and 7 p.m. Saturday.
Wheeling update: As the throng of Wheeling fans slowly began to exit Roland Goins Stadium following the Wildcats' memorable 2-1 victory over Barrington in the Hersey supersectional, it was clear the players and coaching staff weren't quite ready to leave, as all hoped to save one more deep breath after a history-setting night.
The Mid-Suburban champions are one of the last four in the Class 3A state tournament which begins today at Hoffman Estates High School. A thunderbolt of a header from Marino Lopez put Wheeling in front for good in the 68th minute as the Wildcats eliminated Barrington.
"If I could take this championship plaque home with me tonight, I would sleep with it," said proud Wildcats captain Jose Garcia. "I am so happy for my teammates, and our coaching staff, but I am also very excited for our fans, who no matter how far we've gone to play, they always seem to be right there for us cheering and screaming for us. It really meant a lot to the team this year."
Wildcats head coach Ed Uhrik isn't surprised by the praise his all-state midfielder directed toward the fans.
"We've encouraged the players from the very beginning they should play for themselves first. But at the same time, they have been reminded they are playing for their school, each other, friends and family, and just as importantly, the community around them," said Uhrik. "We knew at the start this obviously was a hugely talented group of players, but the best thing about them, aside from their talent as soccer players, is that they all are just a terrific bunch of guys."
Uhrik ticked off several 'statement' matches he felt helped define a team which also won its first MSL crown before earning titles at the Maine East regional and sectional host Evanston.
"There were two tough matches against Niles North, then Warren which allowed us to get into the final, and win it all at the Glenbrook South tournament to begin the season," Uhrik said. "Then we went through our most difficult stretch of the season after suffering our first loss of the season (to Fremd) by winning back-to-back 4-3 games against Hersey (in OT), then Rolling Meadows before beating Hoffman, Palatine and Buffalo Grove to end a stress-filled two weeks of soccer, which ended with us winning the MSL Cup. "I think at that time we showed we could handle whatever came our way."
Conant coach Jason Franco, whose club has played both semifinalists, believes the Wildcats have got what it takes.
"Everyone is very happy for Ed, and his boys, who right now have found their rhythm, and on a roll (just) at the right time of the year," he said.
Wheeling vs. Lake Park, 5 p.m. Friday
Who to watch from Wheeling: Gary Mendoza (GK, 0.82), Nathan Laude (Sr, D), Fabian Acosta (Jr, D), Alfredo Rocha (Sr, D), Michael Hernandez (Sr, D), Jose Garcia (Sr, MF, 27g, 10a), Frank Estrada (Sr, MF), Juan Hernandez (Sr, MF), Marino Lopez (Sr, DMF, 6g), Luis Herrera (Sr, F, 13g), Ivan Mancilla (Sr, F0, 8g, 18a).
Scouting report: This pair of first-time state contestants wowed the field long before their nearly three-week long sensational run through the playoffs. The Wildcats are potent in the attack and plays entertaining, free-flowing soccer. And what makes that attack even more impressive is a defense to match. Wheeling has conceded just 16 goals (after allowing 50 last season) en route to the tournament.
"The thing that sets this team apart from others is they have really bought into defending, and (Nathan) Laude in the back is as good they get, and the entire back four anticipates and tackles very well," said Conant coach Jason Franco. "(Wheeling) is so technical on the ball, which makes them that much better than most in their own end," said Barrington coach Scott Steib. "Plus, they can really get after you with their quickness and ball-winning skills, which really impressed me during our game with them."
And then there's that attack. Again, Franco: "They are skillful and dangerous and have so many players who can create something out of nothing. Jose Garcia is a special player, and each time he's on the ball, I expect something magical to happen. He is worth the price of admission, but they have several others who work off of him, and that's why they are so hard to stop."
Luis Herrera and Ivan Mancilla are dynamic up top, with Herrera providing some breathtaking moments of late.
Lake Park is much like Barrington with its size, work rate, and ability to play directly. So Wheeling figures to have its hands full once again.
Led by all-state senior Mike Catalano (29 goals and headed for Wisconsin), and his teammate Joe Keane (9 goals, 14 assists), the Lancers have a dynamic tandem.
Coach Anthony Passi, who took over for retired Hall-of-Famer Norm Hillner last season, welcomed back both Catalano and Giovanni Ciacco from club soccer. Along with a nice core of returning players, the result was a quality side which went on to win the conference title before navigating its way through a couple of tough sectional matches, including a hard-fought 1-0 victory over St. Charles East before topping Larkin 2-0 at the Bartlett supersectional.
Oliver Horgan (16 goals) is a striker worth watching for sure, while Ciaccio, back after a long rest due to a broken ankle, gives the Lancers yet another creative force going forward.
Naperville Central (18-2-2) vs. Edwardsville (19-3-2), 7 p.m. Friday
Scouting report: You've got to hand it to Central for surviving its rivals and getting to the final four with a 2-0 victory over a tremendous club from Morton at the Lewis University supersectional to earn a third consecutive state trip. The Redhawks are just the 11th team in the 42-year history of state finals to advance three straight seasons, and were runners-up during the last two tournament series.
All-state midfielder Devon Amoo-Mensah is a key figure in a balanced Redhawks attack which has five players with 7 or more goals on the season, including leading scorer Jordi Heenman (13) and senior Jay Tegge (10) at midfield.
One of Naperville Central's two defeats came against Lake Park (2-1), which cost the Redhawks a chance at the DuPage Valley Conference crown. But since that loss, the Redhawks have gone 8-0 to join the Lancers in the tournament.
Downstate Edwardsville, a storied soccer program in itself, is back for the first time since 2010. The Tigers lost to Naperville Central last year in the Normal supersectional.
Coach Mark Hammerschied is no stranger to the playing into the last week of the season, having been here six times prior to this weekend with 4 state trophies.
The Tigers are led by two-time all-sectional midfielder Landon Paul (12 goals, 8 assists) who scored all (5) goals in the Tigers' first two victories during the regionals to get his club up and going in the postseason.
Ranked No. 3 in the St. Louis soccer-rich area behind Missouri and Midwest powers Marquette and St. John Vianney.